Papers no longer have any noticeable expertise when it comes to the railways, and nor do they with air travel, either. Any reports of incidents involving aircraft inevitably lift the AAIB analysis, with the hope that the resulting summary is more or less correct. And any reporting of rail services and incidents relies on press releases and guesswork. This, on occasion, results in mistakes.
Look, no Mail hacks to be seen
And in the serious mistakes category is the Mail’s reporting of a new service to be operated through the Channel Tunnel by German state operator DB. The proposed service – from London to Brussels and then onward to Amsterdam and Frankfurt – was covered by Zelo Street back in October 2010. But somehow, the Mail appears to have lost its helpful DB leaflet from the time.
Hence the headline “Blitz-speed: Germans finally get the chance to cross the Channel as 200mph Berlin to London service is given the green light”, announcing a service which will not be serving Berlin. Having dug themselves a hole, the Mail hacks go for broke with “Berlin to London rail service will take only four and a half hours”. It sodding well won’t.
Mail hacks miss very obvious numbers shock
But they just keep digging: “It will get travellers from Berlin to London in four and a half hours – and vice versa”. Christ on a bike, read your own copy: “Deutsche Bahn officials said the journey time from Cologne to London would be under four hours - less than the time it takes to get to Berlin, around four and a half hours: ‘Passengers can choose which capital they prefer - yours or ours’ said one DB official”.
So how long will that take from London to Berlin? Four hours to Cologne, then a change of train, then another four and a half hours. So around nine hours, or twice the figure the clueless hacks are claiming. And what the Mail chooses not to tell its readers – apart from the fact that the service may not start until 2016, three years later than first planned – is that there is another potential time penalty.
That is because, unlike many other EU member states, the UK has not signed the Schengen agreement, and the UK Border Agency therefore refuses to do passport and immigration checks on the move (as has been done across mainland Europe for decades). So there have to be lengthy check-in allowances added before getting on board. This makes the services potentially less attractive to passengers.
So the new services will, like Eurostar at present, be operated rather like a ground level airline rather than a train service. The Railway Gazette has covered this not insignificant aspect in its report. The Mail, of course, has a problem with mentioning anything to do with borders, in case it were to be seen to appear soft on all those people talking foreign.
We need a grown-up approach to border controls on trains. Speak up, Mail people.